Researchers in the UK have developed and chacterised a technique to use 3D printers to print 2D materials such as graphene.
Using quantum mechanical modelling, the researchers at the University of Nottingham pinpointed how electrons move through the 2D material layers to understand how the 3D printed devices can be modified. “By linking together fundamental concepts in quantum physics with state-of-the art-engineering, we have shown how complex devices for controlling electricity and light can be made by printing layers of material that are just a few atoms thick but centimetres across,” said Prof Mark Fromhold, Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy at Nottingham.
“According to the laws of quantum mechanics, in which the electrons act as waves rather than particles, we found electrons in 2D materials travel along complex trajectories between multiple flakes.”
“While 2D layers and devices have been 3D printed before, this is the first time anyone has identified how electrons move through them and demonstrated potential uses for the combined, printed layers,” said Dr Lyudmila Turyanska from the Centre for Additive Manufacturing. “Our results could lead to diverse applications for inkjet-printed graphene-polymer composites and a range of other 2D materials. The findings could be employed to make a new generation of functional optoelectronic devices; for example, large and efficient solar cells; wearable, flexible electronics that are powered by sunlight or the motion of the wearer; perhaps even printed computers.”
The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Advanced Functional Materials, shows that it is possible to jet inks, containing tiny flakes of 2D materials such as graphene, to build up and mesh together the different layers of these complex, customised structures. The technique was developed by engineers at the Centre for Additive Manufacturing as part of a £5.85m (€6.5m) project called Enabling Next Generation Additive Manufacturing.
The researchers used a wide range of characterisation techniques – including micro-Raman laser spectroscopy, thermal gravity analysis, a novel 3D orbiSIMS instrument and electrical measurements to provide detailed structural and functional understanding of inkjet-printed graphene polymers, and the effects of heat treating the material on performance.
The next steps for the research are to better control the deposition of the flakes by using polymers to influence the way they arrange and align and trying different inks with a range of flake sizes. The researchers also hope to develop more sophisticated computer simulations of the materials and the way they work together, developing ways of mass-manufacturing they devices they prototype.
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